What an incredible missed opportunity Walter Hill's The Assignment turns out to be. The veteran director behind The Warriors, 48 Hours, and more has long been developing a version of this story, about a hitman given gender reassignment surgery, but it's difficult to understand why. While on the face of it would seem to be the perfectly brazen and ridiculous setup for a fun B-movie thriller, the actual execution is one of deadly dull seriousness, leaving us to wish this idea could have fallen into different hands.
There are multiple problems with The Assignment but Michelle Rodriguez isn't one of them. She plays hired killer Frank Kitchen, and yep, she's got a full beard, a man chest, and even a man's penis which they make sure we get a good look at, Dirk Diggler-style. Initially, the silliness of this is exactly what you hoped for; an entire movie of Rodriguez kicking butt as a dude could be the stuff of B-movie magic. But nope; the story isn't actually told from Frank's perspective. Or at least it isn't most of the time. Instead we hear from Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), a radical surgeon imprisoned for running a black market operation performing all types of questionable procedures. She's chatting with a psychologist (Tony Shalhoub) who hopes she'll confess to her many crimes, but all the brilliant but arrogant Kay wants to do is talk about Frank Kitchen, who everyone else seems to think is a myth. So is this movie about Frank Kitchen or Rachel Kay?
We come to find out Frank has made some enemies, one of them being Rachel. She has a disreputable gangster, ironically named Honest John (Anthony Lapaglia in a questionable Italian accent), kidnap Frank so she can exact revenge on him. Her way of doing it? To perform surgery turning him into a woman. Frank wakes up confused and looking like Letty from The Fast and the Furious, and obviously wanting revenge on whoever did this. A lot of this is retold in bland voice-over by Rachel, others by Frank, and then again later as Frank does her own IPhone confessional videos for no apparent reason. Also of no real aesthetic value are the comic book-style splash pages that break-up random scenes, presumably to help hide some of the sloppy editing. If this were a more energetic, comic film as it should have been, then graphic highlights would make sense. But the screenplay by Hill and Denis Hamill plays everything straight in the worst and most boring way.
Perhaps it's my fault for having certain expectations, and Hill can't be faulted for not giving me what I wanted. But he can be held responsible for misjudging his own story's value. What's the point in making a movie about a hitman-turned-hitwoman without some kind of commentary on the male/female dynamic? There's no political or social context whatsoever, something even the worst B-movies managed to do quite effectively. If only The Assignment had the balls to embrace the madness of its premise, we could be talking about it as a modern cult classic rather than a forgettable snooze.
Rating: 2 out of 5